Possessor – VIFF 2020 Review

From its opening frames until the final cut to black at the film’s grisly finish, the second film from Brandon Cronenberg (Anitviral) is a brilliant and brutal body-horror head trip that will leave you reeling and chilled to the bone. Possessor, a film very much of the moment, despite the retro-futurism that haunts its elegantly composed frames, unravels before one’s eyes in a world that’s very familiar but also icy, alienating, and utterly on edge.

It hardly needs repeating, but for the benefit of the three or four people outside of North America who may not be aware, Cronenberg is the son of Canadian genre legend, the Baron of Blood himself, David Cronenberg, and it’s fair to say that he’s a chip off the old block, as it’s also fair to suggest that Brandon has a sprawling, blood-flecked career spreading out before him. And it’s exciting to see how, thus far over the course of just two films, he’s already generating some of the most startling and cerebral horror since, well, since his old man’s heyday.

The premise of Possessor lands like lightning as futuristic technologies meld with a worn, vintage esthetic as contract killer Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), a corporate agent working under Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), uses state-of-the-art brain-implant tech to assassinate her targets. A murderer for hire, Vos inhabits her subject’s bodies, against their will, committing the murders through them, before forcing said subjects to end their own lives in a perfect crime scenario. Only there’s high risks not just in this rattling and disruptive brain-augmenting procedure and its recovery, but also in the emotional toll and the fragile bonds of Vos’s already crumbling family life with her estranged husband and young son.

As the tale lurches forward, leaving many a grisly death in its wake, Vos is seen time and again watching her quarry whom she will soon possess, adopting their mannerisms and speech patterns for her dubious purposes. As she spies on her quarry, a routine she even repeats with her own disaffected family, the theme of voyeurism proves an intriguing one in Possessor. At times the film plays out like The Conversation as directed by the Marquis de Sade.

A more confident and fully-realized film than his previous feature, 2012’s Antiviral, Possessor finds Cronenberg fully in control and unafraid of shocking his audience as his dark and deadly tale builds with the momentum of a freight train screaming through a railyard late at night. His leads have never been better either, starting with Riseborough, who was so vulnerable and ethereal in Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy (2018), here she’s a terrifying persona non grata psychopath being sucked into the abyss. And as her prey, Chrisopher Abbott (It Comes At Night) is alternately utterly sympathetic and wholly sinister when his actions are manipulated by Vos for the most wicked and homicidal of purposes.

Utilizing stylish yet often austere cinematography from Karim Hussain, as well as gifted production design from Rupert Lazarus, along with a bevvy of suitably brutal and bloody practical effects, Possessor is an extreme, uneasy but nonetheless awesome experience. Miss this movie at your own peril.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.